Definition of harsh in English:

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Pronunciation: /hɑːʃ/


1Unpleasantly rough or jarring to the senses: drenched in a harsh white neon light harsh guttural shouts
More example sentences
  • The walls were painted a serene light yellow, even though the bright white lights lit the room in such a harsh, unforgiving light.
  • His attempt to shout to the last row makes his voice unpleasantly harsh.
  • After the gentle, sensuous vowels of Latin-American, this language sounds harsh, cruel, authoritarian.
grating, jarring, grinding, rasping, raspy, strident, raucous, brassy, jangling, metallic, ear-piercing, discordant, dissonant, disagreeable, unharmonious, cacophonous, unmelodious;
screeching, shrill, tinny, squeaky, squawking;
rough, coarse, guttural, hoarse, gruff, croaky, croaking, growly, growling
rare stridulant
glaring, bright, dazzling, brilliant;
loud, flashy, garish, gaudy, lurid, bold, showy, crude, vulgar
2Cruel or severe: a time of harsh military discipline
More example sentences
  • They were strict, cruel, harsh and made you feel guilty very easily.
  • As far as he was concerned, it was society that was cruel, harsh and utterly ruthless to children who were alone and orphaned.
  • Robbins's disciplinarianism won him a reputation as a harsh and cruel taskmaster.
cruel, severe, savage, barbarous, despotic, dictatorial, tyrannical, tyrannous, ruthless, merciless, pitiless, relentless, unrelenting, hard, strict, intolerant, illiberal;
hard-hearted, heartless, unkind, inhuman, inhumane, unfeeling, unsympathetic, unmerciful, unpitying
rare suppressive
severe, stringent, firm, austere, punitive, draconian, stiff, cruel, brutal, hard, stern, rigid, rigorous, grim, uncompromising, inflexible
austere, grim, spartan, hard, rough, severe, comfortless, inhospitable, stark;
bleak, desolate, barren, bitter, wild
2.1(Of a climate or conditions) difficult to survive in; hostile: the harsh environment of the desert
More example sentences
  • The Chinese character refers to a kind of plant that can survive in harsh conditions and it also sounds the same as ‘difficult’ in Chinese.
  • It has proven to be fully adaptable to its habitat, well-suited to survive in harsh climates with their tough hide and wily brain.
  • Bulbs have evolved to survive in harsh climates, to withstand winter cold, or summer drought, or both.
hard, severe, cold, bitter, bitterly cold, bleak, freezing, icy, icy-cold, arctic, polar, Siberian, glacial, extreme, nasty
2.2(Of reality or a fact) grim and unpalatable: the harsh realities of the world news
More example sentences
  • There's nothing like leaving familiar surroundings and then returning for helping you to cope with this harsh fact of reality: no one is indispensable.
  • He offers sensible advice and protects the younger men from the harsh realities of the grim fate that lies ahead.
  • On this occasion it is his aides who are getting a lesson in the harsh realities of the medium is the message.
2.3Having an undesirably strong effect: she finds soap too harsh and drying
More example sentences
  • Others feel borak, and other forms of alcohol, may have a harsh effect on their stomachs, and find that their tendency to fall straight off to sleep after half a glass is a bit inconvenient.
  • Evaporation is faster (and accompanied by a slower loss of strength) in a dry cellar, resulting in an undesirably harsh style of brandy.
  • Sometimes I can feel the pool emptying, drying up under a harsh sun.
abrasive, strong, caustic;
coarse, rough, bristly, hairy, scratchy



Pronunciation: /ˈhɑːʃ(ə)n/
Example sentences
  • ‘Caution,’ the robot said, its voice harshened by static.
  • In his effort to capture her countenance, he worked the face too hard, the pencil revolving from an oval to sharper lines that harshened her face.
  • Sitting in a creaking chair opposite him was Esmeril, his tired face harshened by the deep shadows that covered it.


Middle English: from Middle Low German harsch 'rough', literally 'hairy', from haer 'hair'.

  • hair from Old English:

    In English the state of people's hair is used to reflect how they feel and behave—since the 1990s if you have a bad hair day you have a day when everything seems to go wrong. If you don't turn a hair you are unflustered. It was first used in the early 19th century of horses who did not show any signs of sweating, which would curl and roughen their coat. If you let your hair down you become uninhibited. This idea started in the mid 19th century as to let down the back hair, with the notion of relaxing and becoming less formal. The expression the hair of the dog, for a hangover cure, is a shortening of a hair of the dog that bit you. It comes from an old belief that someone bitten by a rabid dog could be cured of rabies by taking a potion containing some of the dog's hair. Harsh (Middle English) comes from the related Middle Low German harsch ‘rough’, the literal meaning of which was ‘hairy’, from haer ‘hair’.

Words that rhyme with harsh

démarche, gouache, marsh, moustache (US mustache)

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: harsh

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